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gaslight (george cukor, 1944)

As far as I can tell, the term "gaslighting" didn't come into common usage until the 60s. But this is the origin, this and the play on which it is based. (There was an earlier British film of the play, as well.) Perhaps when the play was written, the idea was that one person was being "gaslit", but in more recent years, it feels more like a communal problem.

The key isn't just that "Gregory" (Charles Boyer) is manipulating his wife Paula (Ingrid Bergman) into thinking she is going insane. It's also that he keeps Paula separated from the outside world. She never has anyone else to offer other interpretations of events ... she must rely only on herself, and Gregory, who of course can't be trusted. She is saved by a Scotland Yard Inspector (Joseph Cotten) whose interest in the case is rather hokey. He convinces Paula that she is not insane, that her perceptions are accurate, setting up a final scene when Paula confronts Gregory (real name Sergius) and plays a bit of psychological abuse on him.

It would have been nice for Paula to figure things out on her own ... the fact that another man has to save the day doesn't make Gaslight a model of female empowerment. But Cukor and the writers are always more interested in maintaining a creepy suspense than in making an airtight plot. The inspiration for Gregory's chicanery (he's after missing jewels) is confusing if you try too hard to fit it into the film's timeline, and the Inspector's presence is especially obvious for existing primarily as a plot device. Nonetheless, Gaslight works, both as a kind of horror story and as a noir ... it's as fun to watch now as it was in 1944.

Gaslight was nominated for seven Oscars, winning for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White (among the other nominees in that category were Laura and Since You Went Away). It was also nominated in many of the major categories (Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay, and Black & White Cinematography), while Bergman took home the Oscar for her performance, besting the likes of Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck. One never knows exactly how the relationship between a director and an actor affects what we see on screen, but Gaslight takes full advantage of the ways Bergman can seem so emotionally committed to a role. Angela Lansbury, who got the Supporting Actress nomination, was making her film debut.

Gaslight doesn't disappoint, and its resonance with our times adds value.

 


does it matter where i write?

For the most part, I don't crosspost the things I write here. Once in awhile I'll do it on Medium, but I usually forget. Pretty much everyone I know is on Facebook, and that's where I'll find my biggest audience, if a big audience is what I'm after.

A week or so ago, a friend invited me to join the party, where we choose our 20 favorite albums. I've been posting to FB once or twice a day ... by the time I post this, I'll probably be through 19 of the 20. I might crosspost in reverse, still those FB posts onto the blog, one by one. Point is, on Facebook, the things I write, which are often quite similar to what ends up on this blog, get a lot more audience interaction.

Of course, on Facebook, we pretend we aren't writing for an audience. We're talking to our Friends. But I'm not sure the difference is all that great.

My first post, which included the first and second of the twenty, received 6 "Likes" and one comment. Next post had 8 Likes and 5 comments. The next post had 18 Likes, a couple of which were "Loves", and 4 comments. The 18th post had 9 likes, 7 comments. You get the idea.

I have no idea what this means.

 


music friday: 1983

New Order, "Blue Monday". One commenter was surprised "Temptation", my favorite New Order song, didn't make the 1982 list, so let's rectify the problem with the best-selling 12-inch single of all time. When I saw them in 1985, they played this one. They didn't play "Temptation".

The Eurythmics, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)". Amazingly, this was only the 4th single released from the album that bears its name.

Melle Mel, "White Lines (Don't Do It)". The YouTube video makes the common mistake of attributing this to Grandmaster Flash, who isn't anywhere on the track. "Borrowed" from a Liquid Liquid track, later covered by Duran Duran. I'd be surprised if anyone paid attention to the parenthetical addition to the title.

Randy Newman, "I'm Different". "I ain't sayin' I'm better than you are, but maybe I am."

Cyndi Lauper, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun". At the time, people compared her to Madonna, and lines were drawn in the sand, as if you had to pick one or the other.

Womack & Womack, "Love Wars". Christgau called the husband and wife duo "Ace singers and songwriters (as opposed to singer-songwriters)".

Charly García, "Nos siguen pegando abajo 'pecado mortal'". "They keep beating us down (mortal sin)".

Joan Armatrading, "Drop the Pilot". She had been making albums for more than a decade when this was released in 1983. She has never stopped recording ... at age 67, she's got a new album coming out next month.

The Sisters of Mercy, "Temple of Love". In goth we trust.

Marianne Faithfull, "Falling from Grace". After the astonishing Broken English, who knew where her career would go? At this point, it was a kind of cleaned-up extension of Broken English. Later she morphed into Edith Piaf singing Kurt Weill. We saw her in 1983, and again when her later period arrived. She made us fall in love with her all over again both times.


on this day: better living through chemistry

On this day in 2005, I wrote about going on psych meds ... at that time, I'd been on them for three weeks, which means I've now been on them for 13 years and 3 weeks. In that post, I quoted from my friend Jonathan Sterne, who told what I came to call "The Parable of the Pissing Cat".

He was peeing everywhere in the basement right before we were going to sell the house and we had to do something. He'd had all the tests and was healthy according to the vet. He'd acted out once before (beating up the other cat) and we were told to put him on Paxil and couldn't stomach it. We were too worried about losing the better parts of his personality. Well, nobody wants to sell a house when the basement smells like cat piss (much less LIVE in such a place!), so we took the plunge and started giving him Paxil (that was an interesting conversation with the pharmacist). He slept a lot for the first few days and then more or less was back to normal except he didn't piss outside the box anymore. His meow changed slightly, and otherwise it's like he's the same cat minus the pissing. We took him off it as an experiment once and the pissing started again at our new place, so now he's on it for life. Yes I know that's fucked up.

But the house sold in one day.

I also quoted a friend who said, "Being miserable and crazy/funny/fill in the blank is overrated."

How is it, 13 years down the road? Mostly, I don't notice I'm on the meds, which I think is a good thing. And something is still true that I wrote in 2005, about the absence of anxiety:

You need to understand: I have suffered from anxiety for so long, I thought it was normal. If I considered it in any other manner, I assumed the social pressures of modern life was the cause. But basically, I couldn't identify the problem because it was ubiquitous, and when that happens, when you have nothing with which to compare, you can't define it, and so it doesn't exist.

Now I have something for comparison. I haven't felt anxious in a coupla weeks. Not once. And the absence of anxiety is what allows me now to understand that there hadn't been a day in my memory, not a day in 51 years as far as I know, when I didn't feel anxious for part of the day.

And it's a very nice thing to have that disappear.

Which is why I say my life under medication isn't marked by what's good, but rather by the absence of bad.

In the comments section, my son wrote, "We want some money for raising our parents!"

Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird. Surrender, surrender, but don't give yourself away.

 


by request: hostiles (scott cooper, 2017)

The trustworthy Wikipedia defines "Slow cinema" as "a genre of art cinema film-making that emphasizes long takes, and is often minimalist, observational, and with little or no narrative." By description alone, Slow Cinema would seem to be the exact opposite of what I like in movies. I don't like movies that are "too long" (a complaint, of course, that depends on the movie ... I don't complain about how long The Sorrow and the Pity is). I am a slave to narrative. But when I look at Best-Of lists of Slow Cinema movies, I find plenty that I like, often quite a bit. Like Kiarostami's Close-UpOnce Upon a Time in Anatolia, and Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman 23 Quay Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. So, to make an obvious point, if I like a movie, I don't care how long it is.

But if it's not as good as the aforementioned films, I usually find myself thinking about ways the movie could have been shorter, and I get impatient.

Hostiles is 134 minutes long, and there is no reason why it isn't closer to 100 minutes. I liked the movie more than Mick Lasalle did, but I can't resist quoting him, anyway:

One could say Cooper takes his time, but that would be understating the situation. Better to say that Cooper makes Liv Ullmann look like Michael Bay. Have you ever seen a movie directed by Liv Ullmann? If it’s subtitled, you can watch it on fast forward and not miss a single nuance. Cooper is even slower than that. Characters think before they talk. They think a long time. They think before they ask a cliched question — such as: How did you feel the first time you killed somebody? And then they think forever before answering: Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

Scott Cooper is after something in Hostiles ... it's not like he turned in a 90-minute movie and the studio added 45 minutes behind his back. He wants the audience to slow itself down to the pace of the film, and he succeeds. He also tosses in the occasional violent scene to wake us up. And there is an underlying existential feel that didn't do anything for me, but which seemed to impress some of the people with whom I watched the movie.

It looks beautiful, and while the actors tend to muzzle their emotions, Rory Cochrane manages to effectively express melancholy (plus, it's Rory Cochrane! In a beard!). But it's awfully long for something so submerged.

 


music friday: 1982

Michael Jackson, "Billie Jean". Let's quote Wikipedia, since it never lies. "That performance is considered a watershed moment, not only in Jackson's career, but in the history of popular culture."

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message". Speaking of watershed moments ...

The Pretenders, "Back on the Chain Gang". Third year in a row I've included The Pretenders, who by this point were Chrissie Hynde, drummer Martin Chambers, and a pick-up band.

Bruce Springsteen, "Atlantic City". Bruce didn't used to do videos. If I remember right, this was his first. So of course, he doesn't actually turn up in it.

Prince and the Revolution, "Little Red Corvette". If the lyrics were more subtle, the song would be almost vulgar. Instead, the double-entendres turn vulgarity into art. And there's nothing vulgar about "It was Saturday night, I guess that makes it alright".

The English Beat, "Save It for Later". Closer to the future than to The Beat's ska past.

Fleetwood Mac, "Gypsy". The video was the most expensive up to that time. We've come a long way from "Shake Your Money Maker".

The Jam, "Beat Surrender". Paul Weller says bye.

Miguel Rios, "Bienvenidos". I like Spanish rockers who record albums called Al-Andalus. This song is not from that album.

The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go". Was this question ever definitively answered?

 


on this day: tv 2004

Looking back at a post from 14 years ago, titled "An Abundance of Pleasures". The first line resonates with the current state of television:

"I don't suppose I've ever said this before, but there's too much teevee on tonight!"

We take it for granted now that there is too much TV. It even has a name, "Peak TV". Right now (and by "right now" I mean things that are either on now or about to start), there's The Americans, and Legion, and Killing Eve, and Westworld, and The Looming Tower, and Atlanta, and The 100, and that only touches the surface.

But what are the shows from April of 2004 that prompted me to say there was too much teevee? That blog post mentions:

  • State of Play, a BBC drama with a stellar cast (David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, Polly Walker, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy), that was later made into a movie with Russell Crowe.
  • Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren, which would have been in its sixth season of seven.
  • 24 (the episode where Jack had to kill Ryan Chappelle, a death that actually had some resonance).
  • The Sopranos, with Polly Bergen as the mistress of Tony's father.
  • Deadwood, early in the first season, featuring the trial of the man who killed Wild Bill Hickok.
  • Queer as Folk, with the Season 4 premiere. At the time, I wrote, "With all of the above, the thing I find myself most anticipating is the return of Queer As Folk and one of my v.favorite characters, Brian Kinney."

Apparently, all of these shows were on the same night, which prompted that long-ago blog post.

Fourteen years later, many of those shows remain canonical. State of Play, a miniseries, seems to have been largely forgotten. And people who remember the U.S. version of Queer as Folk probably think it was kinda dumb. I feel like it was never taken as seriously as The L Word, although I liked it quite a bit more.

It occurs to me that when I made that post in 2004, I had yet to see any of the above scenes.


local hero (bill forsyth, 1983)

I've only seen one other Bill Forsyth movie, Housekeeping, and while I have fond memories of that one, they may be influenced by my good feelings about the novel on which it is based. I get the feeling from reading other critics that Local Hero is a typical Forsyth saga, but I can't speak from experience about that. Suffice to say that Local Hero is full of subtle observations about people who aren't eccentric as much as they are familiar in their oddities. Forsyth takes his time getting from point A to point B, but we're never bored, because the characters in the town where most of the movie takes place are allowed the time to reveal themselves to us. We get to know them, and their town, just as Peter Riegert's Mac, who comes from Houston with a business proposition, gradually comes to appreciate them.

Mac represents a big oil company that wants to buy the entire town of Ferness in Scotland, in order to build a refinery. A standard version of this story would have the villagers being a plucky band who refuse to give in to the big oil company, but while the people of Ferness are plucky, they aren't interested in fighting the company. They just want to make sure they get as much money as possible in the deal. Forsyth pulls this off in an unassuming way. He lets us see the pleasures of living in Ferness, but he also shows how the people of Ferness don't have blinders about their situation. There aren't really any bad guys ... not Mac and his company, not the townspeople who are willing to sell for the right price. It's a character study where the town of Ferness is one of the characters, and Forsyth has a genial feel for all of his characters.

I haven't mentioned yet the biggest name in the cast, Burt Lancaster, and given that he is one of my favorite actors, it's surprises me that I've waited so long. But Lancaster has what amounts to an extended cameo as Happer, the head of the oil company. He is, though, the person who is able to connect the rich oil corporation and the small Scottish town. His eccentricity comes from his love of astronomy. It seems at first that he is more interested in what the skies above Scotland might reveal than he is about building his refinery, and by the end of the film, Forsyth has allowed Happer to have both. It's a happy ending in a movie that never moves too far towards anything else.

Local Hero is a movie that makes you smile, if not laugh out loud. This may work in its advantage for someone like me, who doesn't always enjoy "laugh out loud" movies. #608 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

 


music friday: 1981

Gary "U.S." Bonds, "Jole Blon". The man whose first hit was "New Orleans" sings a Cajun classic. This song was part of the second coming of Bonds' career, with Bruce Springsteen's help. We saw Bonds in a club when he toured behind that album, and Bruce showed up, still the only time in all these years that we've attended one of Bruce's legendary drop-ins.

Soft Cell, "Tainted Love". Cover of a mid-60s soul song by Gloria Jones, who later hooked up with Marc Bolan, who was an influence on Marc Almond, the singer with Soft Cell.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, "I Love Rock 'n' Roll". Cover of a mid-70s song by The Arrows. On a roll with these cover versions ... but it ends here.

Bauhaus, "Kick in the Eye". I didn't pay much attention to them in those days ... there were a lot of synth-pop bands that blended together in my mind, although Bauhaus has a funky approach that at least made me want to listen to Gang of Four.

The Pretenders, "Message of Love". The tail end of the great, short run of the original band. Chrissie Hynde was already 28 when they released their first record.

Bobby Womack, "If You Think You're Lonely Now". At the time, this marked a comeback for Womack, who had been recording as far back as 1954, when he was 10.

Kim Wilde, "Kids in America". Wilde's first hit was written by her brother and her father. Wikipedia fact of the day: "[S]he has branched into an alternative career as a landscape gardener."

Foreigner, "Waiting for a Girl Like You". Still had three years to go before the summit that was "I Want to Know What Love Is".

Prince, "Controversy". "People call me rude / I wish we all were nude / I wish there was no black and white / I wish there were no rules."

David Johansen, "Bohemian Love Pad". "You know the cockroach traffic in here / It's got me drinkin' too much beer."